Honduras deal collapses, and Zelaya's backers blame U.S.

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 9, 2009 

CARACAS, Venezuela — A U.S.-brokered accord that was supposed to return ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya to power has collapsed and his supporters pinned much of the blame Monday on the Obama administration.

Honduras' Congress has made no plans to vote on whether to enact the agreement following remarks by Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon that seemed to remove U.S. pressure.

Shannon said last week that the deal meant that the Obama administration would accept the outcome of the Nov. 29 presidential and congressional elections, regardless of whether Zelaya was back in power.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., lifted a hold on Shannon becoming U.S. ambassador to Brazil after Shannon and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton privately reiterated this view on the elections, DeMint said.

Analysts said Monday that Shannon's statement in a television interview Wednesday undercut most of Zelaya's leverage, gave Congress a good reason to dodge a tough vote and strengthened the resolve of de facto President Roberto Micheletti to remain in power.

"The United States is no longer interested in punishing a coup-installed government," Honduran Congresswoman Elvia Valle said by telephone from Tegucigalpa Monday. Shannon's declarations "have left a bitter taste in our mouths."

Zelaya supporters, who've been organizing street protests against the Micheletti regime, are down to their final card: Calling on Hondurans to boycott the elections.

Carlos H. Reyes, the presidential candidate who was favored by the leftist Zelaya's hard-core supporters but had no chance to win, withdrew from the race Monday.

"For us to participate in the elections would mean following the strategy of the coup-installed government," Reyes said.

Zelaya, holed up in the Brazilian Embassy, is running out of options, said Orlando Perez, a political science professor at Central Michigan University who follows Honduras.

"At the end of the day, it seems like the coup will stand," Perez said from Michigan. "It is an ominous sign for democratic governments and elected leaders in the region."

Micheletti is moving forward with plans to organize the upcoming elections, which both sides had hoped would propel Honduras past a political crisis that exploded when soldiers hustled Zelaya out of the country on June 28, and the Congress immediately voted to name Micheletti as his replacement.

The Obama administration and foreign governments throughout Latin America called for Zelaya's return to power. The Obama administration also cut $30 million in aid to Honduras and revoked U.S. travel visas held by Micheletti and his powerful supporters.

Zelaya's ouster and the political machinations have thrust Honduras — a small Central American nation that looks to the U.S. for political and economic support — into the news for months.

Zelaya and many analysts inside and outside Honduras hailed the Oct. 30 agreement between him and Micheletti, although it actually left his return to power up to the country's Congress.

A Micheletti spokeswoman on Monday called on Congress to vote on the agreement.

Heather Berkman, a Washington-based analyst with the Eurasia Group, said that she'd expected the presidential campaign front-runner, Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo of the National Party, to push his party's members of Congress to join with Zelaya's supporters to approve the agreement and guarantee international recognition of the election outcome.

"But Pepe Lobo was in a tough position and has decided that he doesn't want to alienate his supporters," Berkman said Monday.

Micheletti reiterated his accusation Monday that Zelaya broke the agreement late last week by failing to offer a list of candidates for senior positions in the "unity" government called for under the deal.

Zelaya on Sunday said he didn't put forth his candidates because the agreement called for him to oversee the unity government.

Calling the agreement "a failure," he added, "The de facto president who carried out a coup is going to direct the cabinet? This is reconciliation?"

Perez said he thought that the Obama administration decided it had no option but to recognize the election result after concluding that Honduras' political, military and economic elite wouldn't accept Zelaya's return.

The deposed president had been on the outs with the elite since he shifted mid-term to become a free-spending leftist allied with Venezuela's socialist president, Hugo Chavez. Zelaya said he'd like to extend his stay in office, as Chavez has done.

DeMint is also taking credit for the U.S. support for the election after receiving private assurances from Shannon and Clinton.

DeMint said last week that Shannon and Clinton both had assured him that the Obama administration would accept Honduras' winner, even if Zelaya weren't president.

As a result, DeMint released his hold blocking Shannon from becoming ambassador to Brazil and another on Arturo Valenzuela to replace Shannon as the top diplomat for Latin America. However, Sen. George LeMieux, R-Fla., then put on a new hold on Shannon.

Shannon made his comments last week to CNN en Espanol. State Department spokesman Charles Luoma-Overstreet in an e-mail to McClatchy questioned the widespread interpretation of what Shannon said and sent a transcript of the interview that left out the relevant quotes. The actual transcript shows Shannon twice confirming that the U.S. would respect the outcome of the elections no matter whether Zelaya were restored.

A senior State Department official declined to discuss Shannon's statements Monday, saying instead, "What we're trying to do is get the parties to follow the accord . . . If the accord is not implemented fully, that will affect international perceptions."

MORE FROM MCCLATCHY

Deal to restore ex-president languishes in Honduran Congress

Honduran regime's crackdown on dissent condemned

Curfew ordered in Honduras as ousted leader holes up

Uribe's flu reminds even presidents to wash their hands

Would-be Zelaya successor is Honduras coup's other victim

Despite Chavez's efforts, Peru isn't buying into his dream

China makes its move as U.S. falls back in Latin America

Latin America's populist leaders are sharing hard times

Follow South American news at McClatchy's Inside South America

McClatchy Newspapers 2009

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service